Posts tagged Sagan Tuesdays
If we like them, they’re freedom fighters, she thought.
If we don’t like them, they’re terrorists.
In the unlikely case we can’t make up our minds, they’re temporarily only guerrillas.
Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy;
to tap the wisdom of our species;
to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power;
to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history.
They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads.
Books can accompany us everywhere.
Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses.
Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.
There’s no greater sign of the failure of the American educational system than the extent to which Americans are distracted by the possibility that Earth might end on December 21, 2012. It’s a profound absence of awareness of the laws of physics and how nature works. So they’re missing some science classes in their training in high school or in college that would empower [them] to understand and to judge when someone else is basically just full of it. Science is like an inoculation against charlatans who would have you believe whatever it is they tell you.
When we consider the founders of our nation:
Jefferson, Washington, Samuel and John Adams, Madison and Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine and many others; we have before us a list of at least ten and maybe even dozens of great political leaders.
They were well educated.
Products of the European Enlightenment, they were students of history.
They knew human fallibility and weakness and corruptibility.
They were fluent in the English language.
They wrote their own speeches.
They were realistic and practical, and at the same time motivated by high principles.
They were not checking the pollsters on what to think this week.
They knew what to think.
They were comfortable with long-term thinking, planning even further ahead than the next election.
They were self-sufficient, not requiring careers as politicians or lobbyists to make a living.
They were able to bring out the best in us.
They were interested in and, at least two of them, fluent in science.
They attempted to set a course for the United States into the far future — not so much by establishing laws as by setting limits on what kinds of laws could be passed.
The Constitution and its Bill of Rights have done remarkably well, constituting, despite human weaknesses, a machine able, more often than not, to correct its own trajectory.
At that time, there were only about two and a half million citizens of the United States.
Today there are about a hundred times more.
So if there were ten people of the caliber of Thomas Jefferson then, there ought to be 10 x 100 = 1,000 Thomas Jefferson’s today.
Where are they?
If the general picture, however, of a Big Bang followed by an expanding Universe is correct, what happened before that?
Was the Universe devoid of all matter and then the matter suddenly somehow created, how did that happen?
In many cultures, the customary answer is that a God or Gods created the Universe out of nothing.
But if we wish to pursue this question courageously, we must of course ask the next question:
where did God come from?
If we decide that this is an unanswerable question, why not save a step and conclude that the origin of the Universe is an unanswerable question?
Or, if we say that God always existed, why not save a step, and conclude that the Universe always existed? That there’s no need for a creation, it was always here.
These are not easy questions.
Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries, questions that were once treated only in religion and myth.
We’ve tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar.
Despite all our best efforts, we’ve not been very inventive.
In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano.
In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils.
Monotheists talked about the king of kings.
In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe.
Few found the similarity suspicious.
The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.
We are made of starstuff.
Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)
Happy Birthday, Mr. Sagan! Your wisdom and your atoms live on!
Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group.
Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations.
We have broadened the circle of those we love.
We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience.
If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.
If we keep on with business as usual, the Earth will be warmed more every year;
drought and floods will be endemic;
many more cities, provinces, and whole nations will be submerged beneath the waves — unless heroic worldwide engineering countermeasures are taken.
In the longer run, still more dire consequences may follow, including the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and the inundation of almost all the coastal cities on the planet.
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe.
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded,
“This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”?
Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”
“I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.” - Carl Sagan